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Beck, H. P., Rorrer-Woody, S., & Pierce, L. G. (1991).

The relations of learning and grade orientations to academic


performance. Teaching of Psychology, 18(1): 35-37. (Feb 1991) Published by Taylor & Francis (ISSN: 1532-8023).

The Relations of Learning and Grade Orientations to


Academic Performance
Hall P. Beck, Sherry Rorrer-Woody, and Linda G. Pierce

ABSTRACT

This investigation assessed the roles of learning orientation (LO)


and grade orientation (GO) in academic performance. Most
important, we found that GO was negatively correlated with
grade point average (GPA) and General Psychology test scores.
Correlations of LO scores with the academic performance measures
were not significant. The poor academic performance of
students with high GO scores can be partially attributed to lower
Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) scores. Even after the effects of
SA T were controlled, GO scores were negatively related to G PA
and psychology test scores. These findings demonstrate the need
for investigations to determine the effects of grading practices on
students with high and low grade orientations.
Most investigations of college academic achievement
have examined the relation between ability and academic
performance. Relatively few studies have considered how
differences in student motivation influence achievement.
Milton, Pollio, and Eison's (1986) analysis of learning orientation
(LO) and grade orientation (GO) provides an excellent
framework from which to study two of the more prominent
motivations of college students.

Learning-oriented students are excited by the opportunity


to acquire new knowledge, and they find personal enrichment
through academic experiences. Grade-oriented students
base their actions on an instructor's evaluation procedures,
and they work for grades. Separate LO and GO
scores are obtained by administering the LOGO II Scale
(Eison & Pollio, 1989).

Learning orientation and GO have been related to SAT


(Harris & Harris, 1987; Johnson & Beck, 1988) and American
College Test (Rogers, Palmer, & Bolen, 1988) scores.
Correlations of LO and GO scores with academic ability
tests suggest the possibility that analogous associations
would be found between LOGO scores and course grades or
classroom test results. To our knowledge, however, no studies
have established significant correlations between LO or
GO and class performance. Nonsignificant correlations
have been reported between LOGO scores and high school
GPA (Harris & Harris, 1987), college GPA (Rogers et aI.,
1988), and test scores in a college introductory psychology
class (Kauffmann, Chupp, Hershberger, Martin, & Eastman,
1987).

Although previous studies have not found that LO or GO


are related to class performance, the issue deserves further
inquiry. In this investigation, we correlated LOGO II scores
with two measures of academic performance: college GPAs
and test scores in a General Psychology course. In addition
to LO and GO, SAT was included as an independent variable
to determine if the relations of LOGO II scores to GPA
and psychology test scores are mediated by differences in
academic ability.

METHOD

Subjects

Subjects were 110 undergraduates enrolled in two General


Psychology sections taught by Hall P. Beck, the first author.
Seventy-six percent of the students were freshmen,
19% sophomores, 3% juniors, and 2% seniors.
Procedure

LOGO II consists of 16 LO and 16 GO items rated on a 5-


point Likert-type scale. The psychometric properties of
LOGO II have been evaluated previously (Eison & Pollio,
1989).

Students completed LOGO II during a regular class meeting


early in the semester. Students were told that the data
from the questionnaire would be used in several classroom
demonstrations and that their responses would be
confidential.

Four multiple-choice tests were administered during the


semester. Approximately half of the questions were taken
from the test bank (Bootzin, Bower, & Zajonc, 1986) for the
required textbook (Bootzin, Bower, Zajonc, & Hall, 1986).
The remaining questions were written by the instructor and
based on lecture material. When the tests were returned,
students received a letter grade and were told the percentage
of questions correctly answered.

The objectives of the study were explained to the students


near the end of the semester. All, except five students who
were absent from class, granted permission to use their LO,
GO, SAT, GPA, and psychology test scores for research
purposes. The data from the five absent students were not
included in the analysis. The SAT scores and GPAs (based
on a 4-point scale) were furnished by the registrar.

RESULTS

Subjects' mean LO score was 47.10 (SO = 6.64), and


their mean GO score was 43.82 (SO = 6.59). These values
are comparable to those of other college samples (Eison &
Pollio, 1989). The SATs of our subjects averaged 916.64
(SO = 118.94), and their GPAs averaged 2.43 (SO = 0.72).
The mean psychology test score for the sample was 73.82%
(SO = 9.57). The Spearman-Brown equation yielded split-half
reliabilities ranging from. 56 to. 78 (median = .73) for
the four psychology tests.

Learning orientation (Table 1) was negatively correlated


with GO, indicating that students with high LO scores were
less grade oriented than students with lower LO scores, p <
.05. Correlations of LO with SAT, GPA, and mean psychology
test scores were not significant, all ps > .05. Grade
orientation was negatively correlated with SAT, GPA, and
psychology test scores, all ps < .01. As anticipated, SAT,
GPA, and psychology test scores were positively correlated,
all ps < .01.

Two commonality analyses (Kerlinger & Pedhazur, 1973)


further explored the correlations between GO scores and the
academic performance measures. The first analysis used GO
and SAT scores to predict GPA. The GO variable made a
significant unique contribution to the accounted for variance,
F(l, 106) = 3.97, P < .05. The variance unique to
SAT was also significant, F(1, 106) = 10.36, P < .01, as was
the accounted for variance common to GO and SAT, F( 1,
106) = 4.72, p < .05. In the second analysis, mean psychology
test scores were the dependent measure and GO and
SAT were the independent variables. As in the first analysis,
the variances unique to GO and SAT were significant,
F(l, 106) = 5.57, p< .05;andF(l, 106) = 17.21, p< .01,
respectively. The variance common to GO and SAT was
also significant, F(l, 106) = 7.29, P < .05.

DISCUSSION

Commonality analyses revealed that the negative correlations


of GO with GPA and psychology test scores were
partially due to an element shared by GO and SAT. This
result suggests that relatively low levels of academic ability
contributed to the poor grades of highly grade-oriented
students.

Johnson and Beck (1988) speculated that students with


marginal academic skills are compelled to be highly grade
oriented because they are under greater evaluative pressure,
than their more academically talented peers. According I,)
this explanation, students with low SAT scores believe that
they must pursue grades or jeopardize their chances for academic
survival. Students with higher SAT scores do not feeI
that they must be highly grade oriented in order to avoid
failing college. Another interpretation of the inverse rela-
tionship of GO and SAT scores is that excessive interest in
grades impedes the growth of academic skills.

Even after taking into account differences in SAT scores,


GO was negatively related to CPA and psychology test
scores. Prior research suggests that either ineffective stud\
habits (Eison & Pollio, 1986) or high levels of debilitating
test anxiety (Eison, Pollio, & Milton, 19H6) could have
contributed to the low grades earned by highly grade-ori-
ented students. Also, informal discussions with students in-
dicate that highly grade-oriented persons study different aspects
of the course material than do less grade-oriented
persons. Highly grade-oriented students concentrate only
on the questions they believe will be asked on the test; Iess
grade-oriented students study d broader spectrum uf course'
material. If students are relatively ineffective predictors of
the items professors select for test questions, then the re-
stricted focus of highly grade-oriented students could lead to
low test scores.

Although our correlational study does not demonstrate


that the pursuit of grade;, causes substandard :lCadel1llc
achievement, it is disconcerting that those students who are
most motivated by grades are characterized by poor academic
performance. We believe that this finding highlights the
need for researchers to determine if grading pressures impact
the performance of highly grade-oriented student. These
investigations will increase our understanding of grade Orientation
and may produce recommendations that improve
instructional effectiveness.
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